MEMORIES OF MY MELANCHOLY WHORES
By Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In the recently-published first volume of his memoirs, Living to Tell the Tale, Gabriel Garcia Marquez makes it clear right from the beginning that his autobiography won’t just be about what really happened. His memory of events is in various places irreconcilable with “the facts.” It is an old magic realist’s dream of the past, not an attempt at historical recovery.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores is a short novel, a novella really, written in much the same spirit. The narrator is an old, and old-fashioned, man – a semi-retired journalist and lifelong bachelor who has always insisted on paying for his female companionship. On his ninetieth birthday he decides to treat himself to “a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”
It’s a creepy fantasy, made even creepier through unpleasant realistic details like the drugging of the 14-year-old sweatshop seamstress, but that’s not really the way it plays. In part that’s because when this old fellow says “wild love” what he means (and what Marquez means) is something different than raw, explicit, animal sex. The narrator is a romantic, a man of sensibility – and not in the best of shape anyway – so his love is more an affair of codes and gestures. It is wild, but wild in an emotional sort of way, though it can still be violently passionate. When he suspects at one point that his ideal virgin has been corrupted he smashes their love nest to pieces. When the brothel’s Madame, Rosa, sees the destruction he has wrought she is more impressed than upset, exclaiming “What I wouldn’t have given for a love like this!”
Of course our geriatric pedophile is living in a romantic dream, one where reality itself seems fantastic. The virginity he’s after is an imaginary quality, which fits because he doesn’t want his “Delgadina” to be real. On her fifteenth birthday he is actually troubled “that she was real enough to have birthdays.” He prefers the dreaming Delgadina, and the Delgadina of his dreams. When they’re together he likes her to be asleep (not surprisingly, they don’t have much to talk about), and when seeing and touching her in the flesh she seems less real than when he imagines her.
Rosa suspects senile dementia, and that might not be far from the mark. But it’s also a kind of poetic license, a mental habit of improving on reality, a dissatisfaction with age. A conversation with an old flame tries to bring him down to earth:
The truth is I’m getting old, I said. We already are old, she said with a sigh. What happens is that you don’t feel it on the inside, but from the outside everybody can see it.
There is no response to this, but one suspects the narrator does not agree. What counts is not what everybody can see, but how he feels. And he doesn’t feel old. He feels transformed by love. Perhaps life is “not something that passes by like Heraclitus’ ever-changing river but a unique opportunity to turn over on the grill and keep broiling on the other side for another ninety years.”
Memories of My Melancholy Whores is a very slight work, neither long nor deep, but it does have some of the charm and magic of vintage Marquez. A lot of it is trite, but there is subtlety too in its portrait of shabby-genteel obsession. If not quite broiling, Marquez is at least still simmering after all these years.
Review first published December 17, 2005.